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Comments

Tim Worrall

Well, there's nothing really new here - it's really the Tory policy (more or less) for the last two elections.

If the aim of the problem is:

"producing young adults with worthwhile skills, reducing truancy through providing meaningful and interesting education to a wider-range of children, the probability that crime and benefit dependency in young people would also be decreased."

then I really don't see a structural change as having anything to do with it. All of this can be accomplished within the current educational structure.

This strikes me as change to make the education system fit our ideals. As Tories, just the idea of this massive bureaucracy where everyone gets paid the same is enough to bring us out in a cold sweat. "Much better to make schools like this" we say to ourselves. You might be right, but the massive amount of political capital required to get this through, for no obvious educational gain, leads me to say no to this one.

Mike Christie

"the massive amount of political capital required to get this through, for no obvious educational gain, leads me to say no to this one."

I think there is a huge educational gain to ending the ridiculous practice of forcing children of low academic ability to sit exams in academic subject where they are only ever going to scrape very low quality passes, teaching children in the company of their intellectual peers, allowing schools to really specialise in teaching certain types of children.

It is true that this could all be achieved in the current administrative setup, but if we are going to make radical changes to the way schools operate, why be lily-livered about it. We can improve education, reduce bueaucracy and reduce the power of the teaching unions in one go.

Of course it is changing the education system to fit our ideals, if our ideals are effective education, responsive to the needs and wishes of parents, free as possible from bureaucratic and union inteference. Isn't that what politics is about? Changing things to fit your ideals...

clive elliot

As a governor of a school which went grant maintained in the 90s, I will testify to the huge sense of reliuef when the dead bureaucratic hand of the local authority was lifted off our shoulders, and we were able to get on with the business of educating the kids without continual hassling from minor jobsworths at County Hall. We could choose our own sources of supply, and advice, and the head was actually able to spend his time in school, leading, instead of constantly being called away to meetings about subjects in which he and we had little interest.

As soon as Blair got in, of course, he abolished grant-maintained and restored authority to the County Council, and now things are back to being almost as bad as before.

This proposal is excellent, for secondary schools, though I can see practical problems in extending it to smaller primary schools (which is not proposed, I think).

John Moss

I vote yes.

I specifically agree with the point that this isn't just a return to grammar schools, but a liberalisation which allows parents to choose the school they want for their child. I've always thought a good line of attack against those who want to close all grammar schools and see a 100% comprehensive system, was to suggest that a liberalised system would allow those parents who want comprehensive schooling to have it, but their system would deny the opposite choice to those who did not.

Regarding the questions:


What risks have been missed?

My best friend - met in a tree aged 7 - is a lefty teacher and she pointed out one very obvious risk of "vouchers", namely, what happens when the number of children falls just far enough to mean one teacher, say of four in a year group, has to be sacked and the remaining pupils spread between the other three? This would need some sort of stabilisation fund to maintian budgets, say over three years and would be one of those things an LEA could do.

You need to add in a special additional voucher for children with special needs as well. This would allow parents again to decide whether to help fund special help at a mainstream school, or buy a place at a specialist school.

How might the issue of balanced appropriate funding be addressed?

The potential exists to link local taxes to local education spending by setting a "standard" level for the voucher, but funding only part, say 75% from central government, with the balance funded from local taxes.

Personally, I don't have a problem with the "tax cut for the rich" as they're paying twice already which isn't fair and as REFORM found in polling, people were quite happy subsidising Prince Harry at Eton, provided they got the same deal.

Are there any further thoughts on how to manage the relationship between state-funded and private-funded education in a system like this?

Have courage! Just fund equally - allowing top-ups - and let competition do its job. Private fees would fall as competition exposed the less good schools and we would all win.

Would the de-regulation and de-centralisation of teachers’ pay cause a ‘brain-drain’ of good teachers from one part of the country to another, and if so, how would this be addressed?

See local tax element above. This would allow expensive areas to pay more. On a general point, we dismiss altruism at our peril. Teachers, like the rest of us, (well, the rest of us Tories anyway), want to help people in straightened circumstances to improve and that charitable instinct is more likely to flourish in a de-regulated, liberalised system, where teachers and parents are required to take more responsibility, than in the restricted, de-marcated system we have now.

Other thoughts:

Ownership of former state schools should be addressed. Local Authorities should retain the freehold interest and grant long leases at nil rents to new trusts, but if the school closes, the lease is void, unless another school opens in its place. This prevents the land value being ripped out of the public sector if a school closes and the land is redeveloped.

Andy Hemsted

As soon as we can get the dead hand of local education authorities out of schooling the better. And I look forward to the day when we can cull many of the civil servants from the government. Since 1990 is has risen from 2500+ to over 5500 now, and what results have we got? Children are still having trouble reading and writing.
A voucher system where parents can top-up the amount if they so wish to to send THEIR children to any school THEY wish is a poiicy we should not run scared of. It strikes me as being compatitble with the very core of Conservative thinking: freedom of choice for the individual, that the individual knows what is best for their family and that we will give the tax payer the best value for money.
My only resevation about this proposal is the part about faith schools. I think this would lead to a more divisive society. People of different faiths do not mix enough as it is, are we going to allow total seperation from birth, and the problems this will create for the future?

Denis Cooper

First comment - on "the dead hand of LEAs".

As I understand, one of the functions of the LEA is to transmit and/or implement the numerous detailed instructions received from the government. Correct?

If so, surely the dead hand is as much that of the national government, as the LEA which is (partly? entirely?) made up of locally elected councillors?

Richard

An excellent idea.

My only slight concern concerns the inclusion of private schools in this scheme - wouldn't making them partly dependent on state funding undermine their financial independence? However, as you have given them the option to opt in or out this is less of an issue.

Mike Christie

Richard, it isn't about making private schools subject to state funding, but allowing parents to use the funds allocated by the state to pay for an education how they wish.

If you give parents the freedom to use those funds as they want, the only logical conclusion is to allow them to be used as part-payment towards a more 'expensive' private education. My only hesitancy in suggesting that is whether we have the political savvy and courage to weather the inevitable 'poor taxpayers subsidising toffs at Eton' line of attack that will surely come our way.

However, the private school debate would become less of an issue if parents had more say in how their local schools were run and had a real choice of state-funded schools offering quality education tailored to different levels of academic ability. Less middle-class families would feel the need to break the bank to go private just to get a proper education for their children.

Denis Cooper

Second comment - on "faith groups".

If I'd been asked ten years ago whether Muslims should be allowed to set up their own schools I'd probably have hesitated and then said "Well, I suppose so, it's really about personal freedom and parental choice, OK then."

I've changed my mind on that because I don't believe we can any longer take the risk of allowing poorly integrated immigrant groups to remain poorly integrated in perpetuity. It's not just about terrorism, it's about the general threat of deeply ingrained religious and cultural divisions. Therefore I'm now completely against faith schools, including Christian faith schools.

I also believe that there should be a blanket prohibition on using any language other than English as a language of instruction for children anywhere in England outside a private dwelling. If that means that religious texts used in mosques, temples and synagogues have to be translated into English, so much the better.

The only exemption would be for the children of eg foreign embassy staff and business secondees where it is known that the family will be leaving the country after some years and have no intention of becoming part of our society.

Richard

"Therefore I'm now completely against faith schools, including Christian faith schools."

Are you suggesting that all C of E schools would be converted into secular schools? Wouldn't the more conservative solution be to give them back to the Church of England i.e. the original owner before they were nationalised? Turning them into secular schools is essentially the long-term confiscation of private property.

Let's also not forget the fact that faith schools are very popular with parents.

Richard

In addition to my last post it seems that C of E schools, although state funded, are in fact still owned by the Churches. This means that they were never actually nationalised (even though they are funded by the state). Therefore any attempt by a Conservative government to convert them into secular schools would be a gross infringement of private Church property and a mockery of Conservative values.

Mark Fulford

Case A: Parent directly pays for child’s schooling. It’s easy to see that government’s power is limited to laying down general laws concerning education.

Case B: Parent pays tax to pay for child’s schooling. Even though it’s the same bit of money, it’s now “public” money. Government can still lay down laws concerning education, but it now also feels justified – nay, duty bound – to look after the minutia of how it’s spent.

Case B gives us an absurd reversal of power and massive, ironic bureaucracy to deal with a false problem: schools might waste public money. Meanwhile Whitehall wastes billions. We need to trust every school with more autonomy and no single formula. In that respect, this proposal is right.

The proposal is also right that you drive up school standards by offering choice. But choice has to apply to everyone, regardless of their ability and their parent’s ability to pay. Government is worried, and probably with some justification, that children who are difficult to teach will have a choice of one: the school with the worst reputation that can’t get kids or funds any other way. Children in small communities will also have a choice of one. Children who can’t travel miles will also… and so on.

Mike Christie is suggesting that we can deliver choice by encouraging the private sector to build new schools. However, for the choice to be meaningful it has to provide excess capacity at all ability levels, accessible in all locations. In my opinion, it is simply not possible or economic to find, buy, build and maintain the spare capacity required, especially considering that the size of the school population varies up and down, region by region, year on year. In short, delivering what parents want is not as easy as throwing up new schools.

The only answer is to change our existing schools. In the small town with one school we don’t build a rival, we work on the school we’ve got.

We should return powers to parents by makings teachers more accountable to heads and heads more accountable to parents. It is wrong that a government minister holds more power over a head teacher than the combined will of the school’s parents. The system of governors needs overhaul to provide more parent governors with greater powers.

We need to convert the bureaucratic layer into teachers: to take the bureaucrat’s wage bill and put it in front of children, not desks. By having more teachers we can simultaneously improve quality of teaching, the attractiveness of teaching, a teacher’s enthusiasm, a child’s relationship with its school and a school’s ability to offer different choices and styles of learning. Smaller class sizes are the single most important thing we need to achieve and, if you look at the difference between public and private schools, class size is largely what it comes down to.

I vote against this proposal because, while it’s addressing a real problem, creating more schools isn’t the answer.

Denis Cooper

Richard @ 11:01 and 11:27

I only said that I'm completely against faith schools. Therefore I wouldn't support creating any new faith schools, and I wouldn't accept "freedom" or "parental choice" as an over-riding argument for doing so. What to do about the existing faith schools is another, and more difficult, question, especially because at least some of them pre-dated the state system and were taken over. But I certainly would not allow them to continue to operate as faith schools without such strict state control that in effect the faith element was greatly diluted. We should have learnt this lesson in Northern Ireland, and I've no desire to see the kind of divisive and always incipiently violent situation which has been perpetuated there for generations replicated across the country. There comes a point at which the theoretical arguments about personal freedom and parental choice have to take second place to building a stable unified society. There's not a lot of personal freedom when some maniac blows you up while you're doing your shopping, or puts a bullet in your head because you've accidentally wandered into the wrong part of the town.

"Cohesion and faith schools"

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,59-2332296,00.html

"Faith schools and social cohesion in Britain"

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,59-2335347,00.html

Mike Christie

Mark, how do you propose to get rid of the bureaucrats and 'to take the bureaucrat’s wage bill and put it in front of children, not desks' without making the schools independent?

I'm not even sure I mentioned private sector schools, and whilst having private companies run schools is not something I'm against, the main groups I mentioned were independent community trusts, who one would imagine would mostly be made up of parents, teachers and members of the community in the way schools boards of governors are currently composed.

This policy doesn't necessarily mean we start building hundreds more schools either. Most urban and sub-urban areas are served by more than one secondary school and most medium sized towns have at least four or five secondary schools.

Admittedly there are parts of the country where low population density may well limit school choice, but we shouldn't back away from an idea that could make a massive improvement to the education of the majority because it won't make much difference to the minority.

Yet Another Anon

It's a good idea, something such as private charities limited by guarantee, LEA's as well should be transferred to private charities limited by guarantee along with most public services generally - there could be representatives from Local and National Government on the Boards but there should be more Independent people as well and representatives of Industry, Police, Military and Charities as well involved.

6th Form Colleges should be scrapped and children from 14 should go to College, perhaps schools could be combined with Children's Hospitals in a sort of one stop shop jointly run.

Yet Another Anon

This policy doesn't necessarily mean we start building hundreds more schools either. Most urban and sub-urban areas are served by more than one secondary school and most medium sized towns have at least four or five secondary schools.
School numbers are being scaled down because of lower numbers of children in the population with mergers happening, rightly so.

Mark Fulford

Mike, whether state schools are converted to trusts or simply given a new management structure and ethos is, to me, relatively unimportant compared to the outcome upon which we fully agree: schools need to be flexible and run to their community’s agenda, not Whitehall’s. Both changes reduce the number of civil servants directing operations and allows us to increase the number teaching.

Part of your proposal is to encourage groups to set up schools. You also give a strong possibility that vouchers might be redeemable in private schools (which would increase the market for private schools). It seems inescapable that one of the outcomes would be more schools, i.e. more competition.

It's arguable whether competition between schools raises standards. And, right or wrong, politically it faces enormous, passionate resistance because, by definition, one set of kids ends up on the loosing side, at the worse school.

Denis Cooper

I'm inclined to vote against this, not so much on the faith schools issue but because I can't quite see how it would be organised to ensure that every child had easy access - or in fact any access - to a suitable school. Especially if the LEAs were taken out of the picture altogether.

Here's a middle class area where almost all of the residents are well-educated, competent and reasonably well-off, and a group of parents who are sufficiently fed up with the poor standards in the existing local school decide to take the initiative and set up a new school. Would they set the catchment area just to include the children of people like themselves, or would they take a more generous view and also accept pupils from a neighbouring run down estate which is largely inhabited by the poorly educated, the unemployed, the criminal and the addicted?

Meanwhile over on that estate there are some parents who prize education and would like their children to have a better chance than that offered by the existing school, but there aren't enough of them to assemble the time, energy, initiative and competence to set up a new school, and now they find that the middle class parents who have been trying to improve the existing school have finally given up and are decamping. Do they have to rely on some outside body to come in and sort it out for them, and if so which body would that be if it wasn't the LEA?

Serf

I Vote for this proposal. Only flexibility and choice can solve the problems in the education system.

As an addition can I suggest that the vouchers be usable in private schools, with a sliding scale of value, such that a school like Eton recieves no money from the voucher, but a school that charges 20% more than a state school is able to accept the voucher at say 20% less than face value. This would greatly increase the market for moderately priced private education.

Mike Christie

Denis, you raise a good point, there would have to be some rules regarding what criteria schools could use for selection. Personally I would look for the criteria to be primarily academic.

There would have to be some sort of approval process for any group looking to set up a new school, and part of that process would take into account admissions criteria. You are right in that one of the remaining roles of the LEA (which I didn't suggest abolishing altogether) would be to oversee this and ensure that the admissions criteria of the schools in the area did not leave children without a suitable option.

The parents in the leafy suburb might well provide the impetus to get the academically selective school set up, but wouldn't be able to restrict it so much that children who meet its criteria from outside their neighbourhood couldn't get in.

Mark Fulford

Where do you build the new school and what do you do with the spare capacity in the old one?

Creating and servicing excess capacity is wasteful and ties up large chunks of capital needlessly. We've already got the buildings, usually in the right places. All we need to do is fix what goes on inside them!

Richard

"Creating and servicing excess capacity is wasteful and ties up large chunks of capital needlessly. We've already got the buildings, usually in the right places. All we need to do is fix what goes on inside them!"

If parents want to waste their tax money then let them.

As for fixing what goes on inside them, that should be up to the parents as well.

John Peters

This is a no-brainer to me.
It removes the dead hand of central and local government and leaves responsibility with schools, communities and parents.
Schools would gain a sense of identity and pride. Currently they are regarded as an off-shoot of central government and breed only entitlement. Why should the local girl done good donate to bog standard school number 5? Make every one independent and communities and former pupils start taking on responsibility for their school.

Personally (and I am aware of the argument parents have already paid once in their taxes) I don't think the tax-exempt status of private schools is justifiable. I would abolish charity status for schools which didn't take in (say) 80% state-funded pupils. I would include it in the same Bill. I think it would make the politics much more doable.
However, I don't want to distract from the central argument of this proposal which I entirely endorse.

Richard

Personally (and I am aware of the argument parents have already paid once in their taxes) I don't think the tax-exempt status of private schools is justifiable.

Why not? Taxing them would force them to put up fees making it even harder for families on middle or lower incomes to afford them. Bearing in mind they're the best schools in the country it would be madness to punish them.

Andy Hemsted

Denis, in answer to your point "the dead hand of LEA's", yes your are right as to what one of their functions is to implement government policy, and over the years we have seen both local and central government mess up generations or peoples education. And I ment central as well as local government when I said cut back on these civil servants. After all the government budget of £31bn is huge, but a fair chunk of this is paid for people to dream up and make sure Schools are implementing the latest government policy, which is then handed to LEA's who then pay people to ensure this happens, before any money makes it's way to teachers and schools... How can anyone justify this, especially when some reports say the standards of literacy in this country are now worse then Victorian times!!!! Government should provide each parent with the money to pay for education, but should stay out of the provision. That should be left to parents and teachers.

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